A glue-down hardwood floor is one of the strongest and most durable floor materials you can choose. These floors are made of engineered wood, which is thin layers glued together for maximum strength and stability.

Gluing down a hardwood floor is a lot of work and requires some special knowledge. This guide is here to tell you everything you need to know to DIY a glue-down wood floor.

To protect your investment in high-quality flooring, it’s key that you follow the steps below and plan ahead at every step. If you do that and install your glue-down floor correctly, it should last you for many years.

Glue down hardwood flooring

How Much Hardwood Flooring Do I Need?

Hardwood flooring is sold by the carton, so you will need to know how many cartons to buy. 

Start by getting a good measurement of the room. If you are buying your flooring in person, the salesman may be able to come to your house and measure the rooms for you.

After you have an accurate measurement of the whole area where you plan to install hardwood, you need to add some extra flooring to account for the cutting process and damaged pieces that you won’t be using. 

Flooring experts recommend you add 5% to the total area for cutting waste. You should also add about 10% for defective or damaged boards in the package.

That means that if you are installing hardwood in a room of 200 square feet, you should order about 230 square feet of flooring (115% of the room’s area).

This much extra wood will ensure you can finish the floor without ordering more flooring and you will probably have a few boards left over in case you need them for a repair in the future.

Quarter-Round and Transition Pieces

Quarter-round is a special trim designed to make the edges of your hardwood floor look smooth and neat as they meet the walls. There are also various wooden transitions you can use to blend your hardwood into rooms with other flooring types.

Measure all the edges of your rooms and choose the right transitions. You may want to order an extra 10%-15% of material, when practical, to allow for cuts and defects.

Order all quarter-round and transition pieces in a matching stain color.

Preparing the Subfloor

The surface below a hardwood floor is very important. It needs to be smooth, clean, and flat to ensure a good hardwood installation. The good news is that engineered hardwood flooring can be glued down on top of a concrete floor and even in a basement, both factors that were impossible with traditional solid wood flooring.

To prepare your subfloor for wood flooring, take a long straightedge or level and use it to check for high and low spots on the floor. If the straight edge rocks from end to end, there is a high spot in the middle. If the ends of the straightedge touch the subfloor but the middle is unsupported, there is a low spot.

Any variation greater than ¼ inch over a 6-foot span needs to be corrected. Smaller variations are ok. If the floor is severely off of level, you may need to lay ¼-inch plywood underlayment across the whole floor. If you just have a few spots to correct, you can use the following steps.

How to Level a Concrete Subfloor

You can fill low spots in concrete with an affordable concrete patch mix. Just spread some of the patch out on the low spots with a wide putty knife and blend it evenly to the edges.

There are some products that you pour onto a floor as a liquid and they then set up as a solid, self-leveling patch. These are expensive and harder to use, so try to stick to a regular patch mix unless you have special circumstances.

You can use a stiff metal scraper or a heavy chisel and a hammer to knock off small high spots on the concrete. 

How to Level a Wooden Subfloor

On wood subfloors, it’s easy to lower high spots with an electric sander. Use medium-grit sandpaper to remove a layer of the flooring until it falls within the ¼-inch over 6 feet range. It doesn’t need to be perfectly flat, just within that allowance.

To raise low spots, you can use the same type of concrete patch material listed above. It’s one of the only ways to spread an even layer of the shape you need. Use a wide putty knife to make the subfloor flat using patch mix. Do not use a self-leveling liquid patch on a wood subfloor because it can pour through any seams in the wood.

Preparing the Baseboards and Doors

When you install a hardwood floor, you will be adding thickness to the subfloor. Most hardwood planks are ¾-inch thick. Raising the floor by this much will require moving all of the trims and door jambs up so that the new wood floor can fit under them. Remove the trim pieces and replace them after the floor is completely installed.

Go around the room and pry all the baseboard trim off of the walls. You might want to write a word or two on the back of the trim so you can remember where it goes, especially if you have many pieces of baseboard. Remove the nails from the baseboards and the walls. You will use new nails to replace the trim later.

Cut under door jambs using a hand saw or an oscillating saw. Measure up from the subfloor and mark ¾-inch or whatever the thickness of your new hardwood so you can slide a piece of the flooring under the entire door jamb. Flooring installers have special saws to cut under jambs quickly, but you don’t need one for your DIY project. 

Before you cut the door jambs, you should remove the doors from their hinges. You might also need to cut some length off of the bottom of the door so it doesn’t drag on the new, higher floor.

Acclimating Hardwood Flooring

You can think of hardwood flooring as somewhat of a living material. It expands and contracts slightly when the temperature and humidity around it change.

This process of expansion and contraction can ruin a new floor if you do not allow enough time for the material to acclimate to the room before gluing it down.

You can check out our article on acclimating new hardwood flooring to ensure your material is ready to be installed.

The basics of accumulating new hardwood include:

  • Let the wood sit in the room where it will be installed for at least 72 hours (maybe longer)
  • Open up the packages so they can be exposed to air
  • Don’t acclimate wood to a room until windows and doors are installed and the paint is dry
  • Run heating and air systems like normal and keep the room temperature at a stable living temperature throughout the process

Choosing Which Direction to Lay the Hardwood Floor

To choose which way to lay your hardwood floor, you should think of both strength and visual appeal.

The most solid direction for your flooring is probably perpendicular to the floor joists beneath the subfloor. You may also consider the seams in the subflooring. You should lay the wood perpendicular to the longer seams so that you gradually bridge any unevenness. These two factors will help make a strong, flat floor for years to come. 

Visually, hardwood flooring looks best if it aligns with the straightest walls in the room. These are usually the exterior walls. You may want to align the flooring parallel to an exterior wall in the room.

If your subflooring is very strong and flat, you can choose to run your hardwood for visual appeal rather than across the floor joists or seams.

How to Install A Glue-Down Hardwood Floor

When installing any flooring product, make sure to read the installation instructions that the manufacturer provides. They will tell you the specifications for your exact hardwood product. Follow them closely to make sure you qualify for any warranty offers.

Make sure you understand and complete the above guidelines for preparing your room, acclimating the flooring, and choosing a direction to lay your hardwood floor.

Throughout all the steps, keep in mind that installing hardwood floors requires patience and planning ahead. Before laying a piece of wood floor, visualize how it will look in the room and next to the surrounding planks.

Also, remember when measuring that you will be using spacers to keep all flooring ½-inch away from all walls. You will also need to leave gaps of certain sizes for any transition pieces where your wood flooring meets another material.

Gather the following tools and materials before you begin and see the complete steps for gluing down your new hardwood floor:

Tools and Materials

  • Electric chop saw or miter saw
  • Electric table saw
  • Nail gun
  • Chalk line
  • Tape measure
  • ½-inch plastic spacers
  • 100-pound flooring roller
  • Flooring adhesive trowel (use the recommended tooth size for your flooring and adhesive)
  • Flooring adhesive (use the recommended type for your flooring product)
  • Clean, white rags
  • Mineral spirits or a urethane adhesive remover

Step 1: Measure the First and Last Rows

To improve the appearance of your finished floor, you should make sure that the first and last rows you install are the same width. After you determine the direction you are going to lay your hardwood floor, find out how many rows will fit in the room.

For example, if you are installing a hardwood product with 6-inch-wide planks, and the room is 10 feet and 2 inches, you have room for 20 whole rows and a 2-inch row.

Instead of having a tiny, 2-inch row at one side of the room, the floor will look better if you cut 2 inches off of the first row and the last row. This will leave you with shorter rows at each end so the two ends of the room look the same.

It’s also important to do this because no row should be smaller than 2 inches wide. If you don’t plan ahead, you may end up with a 1-inch row at the end of the room. Not only will this look bad, but it will also be too small to stick to the glue properly.

It is always better to split the remainder before you start laying the floor and cut the first and last rows in the room to the same width.

Note: Remember that you need to leave an expansion gap of ½ inch between the flooring and all walls, cabinets, and other obstacles. Subtract this gap from your measured end rows.

Step 2: Set Out Cartons of Wood Flooring

Arrange open cartons of planks around the room in short stacks. This will make them easy to reach as you lay the floor. It’s also very important that you pick pieces of wood from multiple cartons.

Wood flooring can vary in color between cartons. Some boxes may be all light wood, and some may be all dark wood. To ensure an even look in your finished room, put planks from a variety of cartons in each row as you install.

Step 3: Do Not Use Any Damaged or Defective Wood Pieces

As the flooring installer, you have a responsibility not to use any planks that you find are defective. As you take a piece of hardwood from the carton, inspect the tongue and groove to make sure they are cut properly and check all corners for chips. Any weird textures or problems with the finish can also be a bad sign.

Since wood is a natural product, it is normal for some pieces to be substandard. But if you find a large number of defective pieces, contact the manufacturer or salesman for a refund of the damaged materials.

If you fail to do this, you forfeit any right to replacement because installing the wood is considered accepting the quality. Do not glue down any piece that you find has problems.

Installing defective wood can also cause buckling or otherwise ruin your new floor. You might also void your warranty by using these pieces. Play it safe and set aside defective material.

Step 4: Set a Chalk Line For The First Row

The easiest way to begin laying your hardwood floor is to start two rows from the wall, lay rows all the way to the far wall, and come back at the end to lay in the first two rows.

To do this, you need to measure from the wall at each end of the room. Use a tape measure to mark the width of the first row (this should be the partial row that you already measured in step 1) plus another whole row.

Once you have a point on each end of the room for the width of the first two rows, snap a chalk line on the subfloor to connect the points.

You will use this chalk line to start laying flooring all the way to the far side of the room. When you are done, you can come back and lay the two rows that you measured in.

Step 5: Lay Out The First Three Rows

This step is about creating a strong and visually appealing base to begin your hardwood installation.

Pick pieces and lay them out next to each other along the chalk line. Do not worry about using any glue or connecting the tongues just yet.

Pay attention to the seams between boards. The seams in adjacent rows should never line up within 6 inches of each other. Overlapping the boards looks better and makes for a stronger floor.

Avoid creating a patterned appearance. A random scattering of seams will always look better than a pattern.

Remember, you cannot change the alignment of boards after you glue them down. Make sure to stand up and look at the arrangement for each row from a distance. If you notice any rows where seams line up too closely, choose a different board or alter the starting place for the row.

Once you have selected boards that look good together, click the tongues together and make sure they fit nicely along the chalk line. 

You will probably need to cut some end pieces to complete the rows. Measure and mark the length you need. Remember to always measure the finished surface of the board, excluding the tongue.

Always use spacers to leave a ½ inch expansion gap between the flooring and all walls, cabinets, and other obstacles. Subtract this length from any cuts you measure.

Step 6: Glue Down The First Three Rows

Once you have laid out your first three complete rows, you are ready to start gluing.

Gently separate the wood pieces you laid out for your first three rows. Lay them nearby so you can replace them after you spread the adhesive.

Use the recommended trowel to spread an even layer of hardwood floor adhesive on the subfloor, starting from the chalk line. Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Apply firm pressure and use sweeping motions to make an even coat.

Do not spread adhesive on the whole floor. Just completely cover the area you need to glue the first three rows that you already laid out.

After you spread the glue, begin laying boards. Start from the side with a groove end and work toward the tongues. Lay the piece along the chalk line first, then work your way to the other end of the row.

You can work on two rows at a time. This will help create a more stable base as you lay the flooring.

Take the time to tilt each groove around the previous tongue and create a tight fit on every seam. You may need a tapping block to bump the tongues completely into their grooves (preferably a dense plastic block, but a piece of 2×4 and a hammer will do).

Some excess glue will usually squeeze up between the boards. Clean this up immediately with a clean rag and water. You may also use mineral spirits or a urethane adhesive remover on the rag if the adhesive package recommends it.

Step 7: Continue Laying Rows

As you move past the three starter rows, follow a similar pattern. You may wish to lay out whole rows at a time as you did before so you can be sure not to overlap seams within 6 inches of the previous row.

Remember to stagger the starting board length by cutting your first piece of flooring on each end of the row. You can often use the cutoff from your starter plank as an end piece on a later row. Try to do this whenever possible to avoid wasting material.

Spread only enough glue at one time as you can complete it within about 30 minutes. This is probably only 2-3 rows of glue, depending on how long your rows are.

Remember to always plan ahead, avoid a patterned appearance, and never install a defective plank. Also, remember to leave a ½-inch expansion gap between the flooring and the walls.

Step 8: Lay The First and Last Rows

When the majority of the room is finished, you are ready to cut in the last row and first row that you measured for in the beginning.

Use a table saw to rip boards down for width. Leave a ½ inch expansion gap around all obstacles. Slide the boards under any door jambs (which need to be undercut to the thickness of the flooring, if you didn’t do that earlier).

Step 9: Use a Flooring Roller

This step will probably require renting a specialized flooring roller, but it is critical to ensure your flooring bonds to the glue permanently.

Obtain a long-handled roller weighing at least 100 pounds. Local tool-rental companies or flooring installers can help you find one.

Place the roller at one end of the room and slowly roll it back and forth a few feet at a time. Stand to the side of the roller’s path so you don’t hit your feet.

Roll over the whole floor in all four directions.

This will ensure that every board is pressed firmly into the adhesive and create a strong bond.

Step 10: Install Quarter-Round and Transition Pieces

Once you lay all of the flooring, you will need to hide the ½-inch expansion gap around the room. This is what quarter-round and transition pieces are for.

If you have baseboard trim to replace, use a nailer to attach those first. Then you can use the nail gun to attach quarter-round to the walls.

Measure and cut each piece for length. Miter-cut corners at a 45-degree angle. Lay the pieces in to make sure they fit neatly, then nail them to the walls (never to the flooring).

Follow a similar process to measure, cut, and nail any transitions where your wood floor meets the carpet, tile, or other flooring types, or on stair noses. These transition pieces should be nailed to the subfloor.

If you need to remove glue-down wood hardwood floor, you are in for some hard work. Unfortunately, water damage to your wood floors or other situations might give you no choice but to rip out the old flooring.

Glue-down hardwood floors are one of the strongest, most durable floor coverings and are made to last for decades. That durability makes them extremely difficult to remove by yourself. While it’s hard work, it is not complicated — so if you are willing to get a few tools and put in the time you can save yourself the money that professionals would charge you.

You might rent a power scraper to make things faster, but you will have a lot of sticky work to do by hand. Follow this complete guide for tips and experience you need to remove glue-down wood floors as efficiently as possible.

remove glue down wood floor

Using a Power Scraper vs. Removing Wood By Hand

Most flooring professionals would use a power scraper to tear out glue-down wood flooring. This is a heavy machine with wheels and a blade on the front which can save you a lot of trouble removing the old wood.

These machines are available to rent from large tool-rental stores and some local flooring installers. If you have a way to transport it and are comfortable driving light power machinery, you may consider saving yourself hours of manual work by renting a power scraper.

It’s a good idea to consult with a flooring installer to see if a power scraper is a good fit for your space.

Removing Glue-Down Wood Flooring By Hand

The difficulty of this job will vary based on the type of glue used, how well the glue was applied to begin with, and how wide the hardwood planks are. If you are lucky enough to have small planks that were not installed by a professional, they might come up easily. Most floors installed by professionals, though, will take a lot of work to remove.

Removing glue-down hardwood is a job that requires a lot of patience. When you’re ready to get started, gather the following items and follow the steps below to make your removal work as painless as possible.

Tools and Materials

  • Circular saw with adjustable blade depth
  • Shop vacuum and sheets to protect the room from dust
  • Standard pry bar (large size)
  • Other prying tools or crowbars (optional)
  • Medium-weight hammer (such as a roofing hammer or small sledge)
  • Thick work gloves, knee pads, and safety glasses
  • 6-inch steel scraper or chipper
  • 6-inch razor flooring scraper with plenty of new razor blades
  • Wide painter’s tape if you are only removing a section of the room’s flooring

How to Prepare the Room for Flooring Removal

Tearing out your wood floor will require the use of power tools, hammering, and scraping up old glue. This process will make a huge mess, throwing sawdust, wood splinters, and sticky old glue everywhere.

Protect your home by laying sheets down on furniture or other items that are nearby. This will save you cleaning up a huge mess later and can protect sensitive items, like electronics, from damage.

When you use a power saw indoors, you may also want to use a shop vacuum to catch the sawdust immediately before it blows around the room. Just have someone follow your saw with the vacuum hose.

It’s also important that you wear proper safety equipment. Thick gloves and eye protection are absolutely necessary, and you should wear a good set of knee pads, too. You may need hearing protection when you use the circular saw and may prefer to wear a filtering mask or respirator to be safe. 

Once you and the room are prepared, you’re ready to get work removing the flooring.

Step 1: Pull Quarter-round and Baseboards

Most rooms have a baseboard nailed to the wall that runs around the perimeter of the room. Hardwood floors usually have an additional quarter-round trim. You should remove these trim pieces when you start a tear-out job.

If you plan to reuse them, you can remove the nails and keep the pieces (unless they have water damage or other problems). Mark the back of the trim so you know where they go. Otherwise, you can throw them away.

Step 2: Cut Wood Flooring with a Circular Saw

Because hardwood flooring planks lock together, it is hard to pry them apart unless you cut them first. You need to use a circular saw set to the depth of the flooring to cut the wood into smaller pieces.

Set the saw to cut at the exact depth of the hardwood flooring. If you are on a concrete subfloor, you may want to set the depth slightly more shallow so you don’t dull the saw blade on the concrete. Never set the saw deep enough to cut into the subfloor, even if it’s a wooden subfloor.

Engineered glue-down wood is extremely dense and strong. You can expect to wear out several saw blades while cutting the old flooring.

Make long, straight cuts perpendicular to the long edge of your floorboards. The recommended width to cut is every 2 feet. This will make sure you never have to pry up a piece wider than 2-feet, which will be many times easier than removing longer boards.

If you find that removing 2-foot-wide planks is still too difficult, you can go back and cut the rows even smaller.

Step 3: Pry To Remove Wood Planks

The procedure for prying up wood flooring is to stand facing the board and hook a long pry bar under one long edge of the plank. In your other hand, swing a medium-weight hammer parallel to the floor to force the pry bar under the wood.

If you can’t find an edge to make your first move, use the circular saw to split a board down the middle lengthwise. You should be able to pry up this smaller piece from the middle and work outward from there.

If you can’t get under the plank at all, try hammering the pry bar in at an angle so it starts on one sharp corner. You can also try a different location on the plank or a different shape of pry bar until you find a spot that works.

When you seat the pry bar firmly under the board, pry up on it.

If you are lucky, or if the floor was not glued down well, the pieces will pop up with minimal effort. If your floor is more secure, you might find that you have to splinter every piece as you pry up.

Discard flooring pieces in a large trash can one by one as you free them from the floor. Do not stack them on the floor where you can trip on them. It’s best to clean as you go because this is a messy job already.

If you absolutely cannot get the flooring pried up this way, you might have no choice but to call professionals or rent a flooring scraper. This is the best way to remove glued hardwood flooring.

Step 4: Scrape Small Leftover Pieces

Once you get all of the whole planks off the floor, you will probably be left with some splinters and broken corners still stuck to the glue. Be careful walking on the floor at this stage because sticky glue can trip you and there may be nails or other fasteners under the flooring.

Use a flat steel scraper to break any pieces of wood or fasteners off of the floor. Take wide, strong sweeps and always work away from your feet.

After you bust these smaller pieces off of the glue, you can sweep them up in a dustpan and throw them away.

Step 5: Scrape Remaining Glue

To prepare for any new flooring, you will need to finish by removing all of the old flooring adhesive that is stuck to the floor.

While you may be tempted to go straight for a chemical adhesive remover, this can produce dangerous fumes and it may be hard to find the right solvent for your type of glue.

It’s better to remove the glue manually if at all possible. The right tool for this job is a 6-inch razor flooring scraper. Even with a good scraper, you should only expect to clear a few inches of glue with each stroke. This can be the hardest step in the whole process.

Hold the scraper blade at a 45-degree angle and push hard to cut under the glue. If you’re on a wood subfloor, be careful not to cut into the subfloor when you scrape. Replace your blades often to keep them sharp.

Flooring glue is very strong stuff, so be patient while you scrape the remaining glue and always scrape safely away from yourself.

If you find it’s absolutely necessary to use a chemical glue remover, try different types by testing a small area first. Follow instructions carefully and always ventilate the room and wear a respirator to protect yourself from dangerous fumes.

How to Remove Only A Section of Wood Flooring

The steps above will tell you how to remove any amount of hardwood flooring. If you only want to remove part of the floor, such as to create a tile entry in a room with a wood floor, then do the following:

Use a tape measure and a large square to mark out the area you wish to tear out. Mark these measurements on the old flooring in pencil. Connect the measurements so you have a clear and complete outline of the area.

Use wide painter’s tape to outline the area you marked. This will create a protective layer for the flooring you are keeping so the saw does not scratch the wood.

Apply the tape to the outside of the lines (the area you are not tearing out). The tape should line up with your markings exactly. Lay several strips of tape outward to protect the floor. It should be as wide as the guard on your circular saw.

Set the cutting depth on your circular saw to as close to the thickness of the floor as possible. Tear-out will be easiest if you cut all the way through, but you don’t want to go too deep — especially if the flooring is over a concrete subfloor. Try to set the depth to the exact thickness of the hardwood.

Cut around the entire border that you marked out with tape. Work slowly as you approach the corners so you do not overcut and leave gaps in the flooring (if you do, you will have to fix them with color-matched wood putty).

This will give you a clean border to start your tear-out. Follow the rest of the steps above on the section of flooring that you are removing.

Engineered hardwood floors happen to be a relatively recent invention compared to solid hardwood surfaces.

They came into use about a decade after the Second World War when solid hardwood was largely replaced by linoleum floors due to the rising popularity of concrete slabs.

This development meant that manufacturers had to come up with flooring which was especially stable and more resistant to moisture and temperature fluctuations than solid hardwood, resulting in the invention of engineered hardwood. If you are unfamiliar with engineered wood, we recommend reading our article on what is engineered wood flooring.

In this article, we examine the pros & cons of engineered hardwood flooring. Also, we provide detailed comparisons to solid hardwood and laminate flooring.

Advantages of Engineered Wood Floors

In appearance, engineered wooden floors are rather similar to solid hardwood floors. However, they typically consist of three main layers with the uppermost being made of hardwood. 

The presence of hardwood in a single layer is what differentiates it from solid hardwood and laminate flooring as the former is completely made of hardwood, and the latter possesses a photographic layer that provides the appearance of a hardwood surface.

Below, we have listed the main advantages of installing engineered hardwood floors as opposed to their solid wood and laminate counterparts.

1. Adding Value to Your Property

Like solid hardwood flooring, engineered wooden floors can also raise the value of your property. Laminate flooring on the other hand is not as highly valued despite being preferred to carpeting or vinyl, and may even reduce the value of a property if the variety installed happens to be especially cheap.

2. Cost (Compared to Solid Hardwood Flooring)

Engineered hardwood flooring can often be a cheaper option since manufacturers often only use the most expensive wood for the veneer. 

This is in direct contrast to solid wood in which the entire plank has to be made from the variety of wood being used resulting in its being more expensive.

The former costs between $4 to $10 per square foot, while the latter costs between $5 to $15 per square foot.

3. Durability (Compared to Laminate Flooring)

Engineered hardwood floors generally have a lifespan of 20 to 40 years, and it is even possible for some of them to last longer. Laminate floors, on the other hand, generally last a maximum of 20 years.

4. Ease of Installation (Compared to Solid Hardwood Floors)

Engineered hardwood flooring is generally considered easy to install and this procedure can be done by an amateur particularly if they happen to be using planks that can be click-locked. What’s more, it is often sold prefinished, reducing the amount of work you will have to do to prepare it for your home.

Solid hardwood floors, on the other hand, are somewhat more difficult to install. They may also be sold unfinished in which case you will need to sand, stain, and apply a finish to your floor once you have installed it.

5. Esthetic Appeal 

Engineered hardwood flooring is capable of providing the esthetic appeal of solid hardwood surfaces. As a result, you can enjoy the same ambiance of sophistication the latter option provides when installing the former. Because it is also available in a wide range of colors and finishes you will also have a variety to choose from to match your preferred style for your home.

Although laminate flooring also provides an extensive range of choices with regard to color and style, it is visibly different from real wood despite being able to resemble it to a certain degree.

6. Hygiene 

Engineered hardwood flooring will not trap any debris, dander or unpleasant floors in the same way carpet might, making it ideal for pets.

It also does not conceal plenty of bacteria or parasites either but can be cleaned instantly unlike carpeting which may not only contain the above but be difficult to clean as well.

As a result, it is an ideal option if you or any members of your household are affected by any allergies.

7. Plank Size

If you prefer wider planks, engineered wood would be a better option for you since these boards are often wider compared to those of solid hardwood and can reach sizes of 7 inches, as opposed to the latter which often have a maximum width of 4 inches.  

8. Stability and Moisture Resistance

Engineered hardwood floors consist of a veneer, a core, and a base layer. The core is made up of layers of wood that are placed at right angles to each other and certain high-quality products may have as many as seven or even twelve layers. 

This arrangement lends engineered hardwood floors a great degree of stability, making them less prone to warping in the presence of moisture.

Solid hardwood floors, on the other hand, are made of one single block of wood and as a result, are less stable in this regard.

This means that they are more prone to crowning, cupping, and gapping due to being more susceptible to humidity.

9. Sustainability

Because only their topmost parts need to be made from solid wood, engineered hardwood floors generally require less wood (up to a third less) compared to solid hardwood floors.

Engineered hardwood flooring comes with a dense core and is also a better conductor of heat as a result. Installing it means you are likely to have to spend less energy to keep your home warm than you would if you opted for solid hardwood floors.

10. Variety of Installing Options

Engineered hardwood flooring can come with either click systems or tongue and groove systems. In the case of the former, you will be able to install a floating floor which you will be able to take with you when you move to a new home, saving money as a result. 

It is also ideal for installing over a variety of subfloors including concrete, particleboard, terrazzo, tile, wood, and vinyl.

On the other hand, solid hardwood flooring can only be installed by gluing or nailing down. It is impossible to install it as a floating surface. 

It is also worth noting that it may only be used for concrete subfloors when being installed above grade. Also, we recommend reading our article that talks in detail about how to install engineered hardwood over concrete.

Disadvantages of Engineered Wood Floors

The style, esthetic appeal, versatility, and ease of installation engineered hardwood floors possess means they can be an excellent option under certain circumstances. However, they also come with several drawbacks compared to solid hardwood and laminate flooring. Some of the most common disadvantages of this flooring option include:

1. Acoustics

Compared to engineered hardwood, solid hardwood possesses better acoustic properties due to its ability to reduce echoes. It can also distribute sound within a space and prevent reverberations more effectively due to its greater density and hardness.

2. Cost (Compared to Laminate Flooring)

Although engineered hardwood flooring can be less expensive than solid hardwood flooring it is more expensive compared to laminate flooring.

(Engineering hardwood ranges from $4 – $10 per square foot, while laminate flooring ranges from $0.50 – $5.)

3. Ease of Installation (Compared to Laminate Flooring)

Although engineered hardwood floors can be installed by amateurs and are easier to install compared to solid hardwood floors, the installation of laminate flooring is a significantly easier process, owing to the ability of its planks to lock onto each other. 

As a result, it is highly popular among amateur decorators, and choosing it may enable you to save both time and money.

4. Ease of Repair

Damage to engineered hardwood can be difficult to repair and it may be necessary for the entire flooring surface to be replaced.

With solid hardwood, you will be able to rematch the floor if only a part of it is damaged before proceeding to refinish the entire surface. Solid hardwood is also ideal for use during remodeling projects when partitions may be removed making it necessary to add more wood. 

5. Ease of Refinishing

Engineered hardwood flooring is generally unsuitable for refinishing. As a result, you will not be able to sand it and apply a protective finish.

The only exceptions are products that come with veneers above 2 mm in thickness and certain premium varieties which can be refinished as many times as hardwood floors.

6. Overall Durability

Despite their robustness and resistance to gapping, cupping, and crowning, engineered hardwood floors generally last between 20 to 40 years.

Solid hardwood floors on the other hand are capable of lasting for up to a century.

7. Susceptibility to Moisture

Despite their ability to handle humidity better than solid hardwood surfaces, engineered hardwood floors can still be damaged by water and every effort should be taken to protect them from spills as a result.

On the other hand, water-resistant laminate floors are capable of handling exposure to moisture better although they are by no means waterproof.

8. Susceptibility to Scratching and Dents

Despite its toughness, engineered hardwood flooring remains susceptible to scratches and dents, making it unsuitable for high-traffic areas. It is also worth noting that it may be impossible to remove deep gouges and scratches in it, unlike solid hardwood floors.

Laminate flooring, on the other hand, is less susceptible to these issues making it a possibly better option as a result.

9. Susceptibility to Sunlight

Like solid hardwood, engineered hardwood is photosensitive and will fade or even darken when it is exposed to sunlight. Most of this discoloration will be caused by UV light, although infrared light can also cause fading as well.

We suggest using light-colored woods in rooms exposed to plenty of sunlight or installing flooring to which a protective coating has been applied.

Alternatively, they also suggest the use of drapes to protect your floors or even UV filtering film fitted on your windows. The latter option will enable you to block infrared rays in addition to filtering UV light and even enable temperature regulation indoors with a possible reduction of your energy bills. Low-E coated glass could also prove beneficial.

Laminate flooring is more resistant in this regard as several varieties come with UV inhibitors. That said they will still fade eventually over time.

10. Toxicity

Even though its manufacturing process reduces waste, engineered hardwood flooring comes with a glued core. This adhesive may contain certain harmful products, unlike solid hardwood flooring which is completely natural.

Solid Wood Flooring vs. Engineered Wood Flooring 

Solid hardwood has been in use for far longer than any other wooden flooring option including engineered wood flooring which was introduced in the 1960s. And as can be seen from the pros and cons of engineered hardwood flooring noted above, both options have their strengths and weaknesses despite their similar appearance. Below they are examined in light of scenarios you are likely to encounter as a homeowner.

Installation Above/Below Grade

Solid hardwood floors: Surfaces in this category are especially susceptible to moisture. As a result, they are unsuitable for installing in rooms below ground level, such as your basement, for example. Doing so will place them at risk of warping and swelling and also encourage the presence of mold and mildew.

However, it is worth noting that these planks may be installed in rooms above ground level since these spaces are less susceptible to water damage than rooms below grade.

Engineered hardwood floors: Being less susceptible to moisture, these floors can be installed below ground level. They can also be installed above grade like their solid hardwood counterparts.

Radiant Floor Heating

Solid hardwood floors: Surfaces in this category are especially susceptible to changes in temperature. Using them in rooms in which radiant heating is used could make them lose their moisture content and dry out. 

Engineered hardwood floors: They are more resistant to changes in temperature and less prone to shrinkage as a result. This makes them a suitable option and ideal for use in rooms warmed by radiant heating.

Installation in Your Kitchen/Bathroom

Solid hardwood floors: Given the porous nature of wood, surfaces in this category are unsuitable for rooms where a great deal of water is used as doing so will place them at risk of damage.

Engineered hardwood floors: Despite being less prone to moisture damage, engineered hardwood floors are by no means waterproof. As a result, they are not suitable either for use in these rooms.

The best options would be ceramic tile or vinyl.

Verdict

 Engineered hardwood flooring offers a wide range of benefits that make it ideal for your home. These include that authentic natural sophistication associated with wood, better acoustics compared to laminate flooring, and improved air quality and durability – qualities that all enable it to add to the value of your home.

There is also the fact that it possesses greater stability and resistance to temperature and moisture, and can be installed on concrete, above and below grade as well. 

The option to also install it as a floating floor is also an important benefit since it can enable you to save on costs providing you with the option of taking it with you when you move to your new home.

However, it does have its drawbacks as well, such as poorer acoustic qualities, the difficulty involved in repairing it compared to solid hardwood, and less resistance to wear and sunlight compared to laminate flooring.

Yet, there is no doubt that its growing popularity shows the widespread appeal of a sustainable option that is just as authentic in terms of being made from real wood like solid hardwood.

Engineered hardwood flooring makes it possible for you to experience the ambiance of sophistication wooden surfaces provide with additional benefits of durability, long-term cost-effectiveness, ease of installation, and an impressive range of choice.

In this article, you will be able to find out what engineered hardwood flooring is and what qualities set it apart from solid hardwood and laminate flooring. As a result, you’ll be able to make an informed decision as to whether it is just right for your home or not.

What Is Engineered Hardwood Flooring?

Engineered hardwood flooring is a product that has been manufactured from a core made from softwood which covers a base layer usually made from plywood. This softwood core is covered by a veneer or wear layer made from hardwood which is also covered in a finish.

How Is Engineered Hardwood Made?

The Top Layer

Also referred to as the wear layer or veneer, this part of the flooring is made from selected trees that have been cut and divested of their bark and undergone one of the following three processes:

  • Sawing: The logs are cut directly through to reach the material which will form the top layer. The veneer obtained will closely resemble a solid wood floor.
  • Slicing: In this instance, the topmost layer of the engineered hardwood floor is obtained from a log which is sliced into sections that are then also cut at an angle to produce the veneer. It is worth noting that this procedure can cause stress to the wood fiber. As is the case with sawing the veneer or wear layer will closely resemble a solid wood floor.
  • Rotary peeling: This process involves the production of a single large but thin wear layer by peeling a log against a sharp blade. It is an economical process that minimizes waste and the veneer produced will have a pronounced grain pattern.

The Middle Layer

This part of the flooring surface is also known as the core. It is made of layers of plywood or softwood. 

However, certain manufacturers actually use veneers to form this middle layer. This part of the floor is formed by gluing each hardwood, softwood, or plywood layer, at a right angle to the one below it. 

This practice enables the core to lend an impressive degree of stability to the hardwood floor.

The Bottom Layer

The final layer of the engineered hardwood floor, this base layer serves to provide additional stability to the overall structure. It is often manufactured from plywood or high-density fiberboard.

Engineered Hardwood vs. Solid Hardwood 

Engineered Hardwood

This category of flooring consists of a hardwood topmost layer or veneer, a core consisting of plywood or hardwood layers set at 90 degrees to each other, and a base layer.  

Engineered hardwood sounds hollow when tread upon, however, if stapled down, it will sound somewhat solid. The exception is premium engineered hardwood which gives off a similar sound to hardwood floors under foot, due to its increased thickness, compared to standard engineered hardwood. 

While floors in this category can also be sanded and finished, they are not capable of undergoing these procedures as many times as solid hardwood floors.

Due to their construction, they are more resistant to changes in temperature or humidity, since they are less likely to contract or expand as a result of any changes in these factors.

Engineered hardwood comes with a greater variety of plank widths, textures, treatments, and colors.

Solid Hardwood

This variety of hardwood flooring is manufactured from a single solid section of pure hardwood and is considered to be especially durable. It is usually the more expensive of the two options.

Due to its manufacture, it feels and sounds solid when you tread on it. 

Quite frequently, solid hardwood is manufactured using trees which provide the most wear-resistant woods. These include hickory, maple, or oak. 

The thickness of these floors makes them suitable for sanding and refinishing several times. 

Engineered HardwoodSolid Hardwood
ManufactureMade from multiple layers of wood.Made from a single piece of wood
CostIs often less expensiveIs often more expensive
FinishingCannot be sanded and finished as often as solid hardwoodsCan be sanded and finished several times
Resistance to HumidityMore resistant to changes in temperature and humidityProne to issues with humidity
SoundGives off a more hollow sound when walked onGives off a solid sound when tread upon

Engineered Hardwood vs. Laminate Flooring

Engineered Hardwood

The natural appeal of engineered hardwood is due to its veneer. However, because this topmost layer has been made from hardwood, this category of flooring is susceptible to damage when exposed to sunlight. It is also unsuitable for high traffic areas since it is susceptible to scratching and denting from furniture.

While engineered hardwood is considered to bestow rooms with an authentic classical appeal, it lacks the versatility of laminate flooring and is also more expensive.

It is however considered to be an excellent choice for homeowners interested in more sustainable flooring and is impressively durable compared to laminate flooring (although solid hardwood surpasses it in this regard).

Laminate flooring 

Surfaces in this category can take the appearance of hardwood or stone making them rather versatile. Unlike engineered hardwood which consists of three layers, laminate flooring consists of four: a wear layer, a photographic layer, a core layer (which may be water-resistant), and a base layer.

Flooring in this category is also more resistant to sunlight, scratching, and denting and as a result is ideal for high traffic areas.

It is also cheaper compared to hardwood floors and is easy to clean compared to engineered hardwood since it is water-resistant. However, it is less durable compared to engineered hardwood.

Engineered HardwoodLaminate Flooring
LayersConsists of three main layersConsists of four main layers
CostIs expensiveIs often less expensive
FinishingIs especially durable compared to laminate flooringIs not as durable as hardwood flooring
Resistance to HumidityIs more susceptible to damage from sunlight, water, and scratchingIs more resistant to damage from sunlight, water, and scratching
SoundCan be sanded and refinishedCannot be sanded

Advantages

  • Cost:  Engineered hardwood is often cheaper compared to solid hardwood.
  • Enhanced resistance to changes in humidity: Engineered hardwood is less susceptible to contraction and expansion due to changes in moisture levels compared to solid hardwood floors.
  • An environmentally friendly option: Unlike solid hardwood, every part of a tree can be used in the manufacture of engineered hardwood leading to a reduction in waste.

Disadvantages

  • Difficulty of maintenance: Engineered hardwood cannot be mopped like concrete or tile floors and requires special cleaning products. 
  • Susceptibility to sunlight and water damage: Engineered hardwood flooring is especially susceptible to sunlight which can cause it to fade. It is also especially susceptible to water damage and must not be placed in rooms with a high risk of leakages and spills such as kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Cost in comparison to other flooring options: Engineered hardwood is more expensive than other flooring options such as carpets, laminate flooring, or tiles.
ProsCons
Often a cheaper option compared to solid hardwoodSomewhat demanding in terms of maintenance
Enhanced resistance to humiditySusceptible to sunlight and water damage
Is an environmentally friendly optionCosts more compared to laminate, tiles or carpets

Types of Engineered Hardwood

SPF 

This type of engineered hardwood is named for the use of spruce, pine, and fir used in manufacturing its core.  It is resistant to expansion and contraction due to the manner in which the softwoods are cut and the manner in which they are arranged to run at right angles to the veneer of the hardwood. This type of flooring is likely to have a high strength to weight ratio and is dimensionally stable.

Plywood 

This term refers to engineered hardwood flooring which has a plywood core.  The degree to which the flooring will be able to resist moisture will depend on the quality of the plywood used in its manufacture. Birch which has a Janka rating of 1200 is often used although poplar which has a rating of 500 is also a popular choice as well.

However, it is worth noting that plywood cores have a glue line at each layer and are more prone to expanding and contracting, as a result, compared to standard hardwood flooring.

MDF 

Medium-density fiberboard engineered hardwood refers to flooring with a core that has been manufactured using wooden fibers, chips, and flakes, which are glued together with the aid of wax and synthetic resin and then subjected to elevated temperature and pressure levels to shape them into flat sheets.

MDF has a density of 600-800kg/m3 and is the most widely used variety of fiberboard. Although it is cost-effective, it is not water-resistant.

HDF 

This variety of engineered hardwood is one in which high-density fiberboard has been used in constructing its core which is then attached to a veneer.  HDF is more robust and durable than MDF; it has a density of 600-1450kg/m3.

Like MDF, it is cost-effective and has high load bearing and weight resistance capabilities. 

Hardwood 

Flooring in this category features hardwood cores. The wood which is most popularly used in this regard is poplar due to the fact that it is one of the cheapest hardwoods available.

Price of Engineered Hardwood 

Engineered hardwood can be slightly cheaper compared to solid hardwood flooring in terms of the materials used. Figures relating to their cost and their installation have been provided below for both categories of flooring surfaces. However, it is worth noting that they are estimates and costs will ultimately depend on the retailer selling the flooring materials and the professionals handling the installation.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Materials: $4 – $10 per square foot.

Installation: $3 – $8 per square foot.

Solid Wood Flooring

Materials: $5 – $15 per square foot.

Installation: $3 – $8 per square foot.

Common Misconceptions About Engineered Hardwood

Is engineered wood fake?

No, engineered wood is not fake. It is simply a composite product made from different components which are all made from wood.

Is it possible to sand and finish engineered hardwood floors?

Yes, it is. As long as the veneer layer is above 2mm in thickness. It is actually possible to sand and finish hardwood floors as many times as solid wood floors if you happen to have installed premium engineered hardwood floors.

Are engineered hardwood floors completely immune to cupping or buckling?

No, they are not. However, engineered hardwood floors are more resistant to these issues compared to solid hardwood surfaces.

How durable is engineered hardwood?

High-quality engineered hardwood can be pretty durable and can generally last between 20 to 40 years.  (It is actually possible to obtain warranties on engineered hardwood flooring covering periods between 30 to 50 years.)

Commonly Asked Questions About Engineered Hardwood Floors

Can engineered hardwood floors be restained?

Yes, depending on the variety you have purchased and the thickness of the veneer. This topmost layer will need to be more than 2mm thick, for you to be able to do so, although you will need confirmation from the manufacturer that the flooring is suitable for the procedure.

Do engineered hardwood floors emit volatile organic compounds?

Certain engineered hardwood floors will contain volatile organic compounds or VOCs, however, it is also possible to obtain those which do not contain any due to growing consumer demand for safer products.

Can engineered hardwood floors be used over radiant heat?

Yes, they can. As a matter of fact, they happen to be one of the best options due to their dimensional stability.

Can engineered hardwood floors be installed over concrete?

Yes, they can. However, you will need to ensure that there are no issues with moisture before doing so. We explain this in further detail in our article on installing engineered wood flooring on concrete.

If you are shopping for a new hardwood floor for your home, you have probably noticed the options to either “float” or glue down your hardwood flooring.

But how can you tell which one is better for your space? It depends on several factors which we will cover in this guide.

Below you will find a few of the most important advantages and disadvantages for floating vs glue-down wood flooring. At the end of the article, you can find some of the parameters to help you decide which wood floor method is best for you so you can pick the right product.

Floating Wood Flooring

Traditional wood floors are fastened to the subfloor with nails or glue, but a floating wood floor is made up of planks that lock together like a big puzzle using a tongue-and-groove system.

The flooring “floats” because it isn’t attached to the subfloor, but rather uses its own weight and friction to stay in place.

Installing a floating floor consists of preparing the subfloor, laying down a paper-like moisture barrier layer, and locking together the flooring itself.

Since there are little or no fasteners involved, installation is faster and requires a little less technical skill. So floating hardwood flooring lends itself somewhat to DIY or cheaper professional installation.

Advantages of Floating Wood Floors

  • Easy to Install – The click-together system makes installing a floating floor quicker and much easier than a glue-down floor. You won’t have to worry about selecting and applying glue or other fasteners, which can be difficult, especially if you want to DIY the floor. Even if your floating flooring requires a little glue on the tongue of each plank, this is faster and easier than gluing the floor down.
  • Durable – Hardwood flooring that is designed to float in the room is almost always an engineered material. This means it’s made up of several layers of compressed wood that provide upgraded strength over natural hardwood, especially on the finish.
  • Good for Varied Environments – A floating floor leaves a small gap around the edges of the room (which is hidden below the trim). This gap allows the flooring to expand and contract with changing humidity and temperature without causing any problems. If you know you have wide-ranging conditions in your home, floating is a good option.
  • Easy to Remove – If you remodel often or are putting flooring in a rental where you think there may be frequent damage, a floating floor can be nice because you can remove a few planks for repairs or remove the entire floor pretty easily. It’s just a matter of unhooking the locking tongues of the boards.

Disadvantages of Floating Wood Floors

  • Not as Solid as Glue-Down – There is usually a chance for a slightly soft or hollow feel when you walk on a floating wood floor. This happens because the wide puzzle of interlocked boards can flex slightly underfoot. This is mostly a matter of preference. You might notice light pieces of furniture shift slightly over time, especially if you have kids or dogs running around them every day.
  • Not as Stable Under Appliances – Because the floating floor uses its own weight and friction to stay in place, it can cause problems in rooms with heavy appliances (kitchens and laundry rooms). Pushing appliances around could shift the flooring, and the extreme weight could break the locking tongues apart at the edges.
  • Needs a Flat Subfloor – If you are putting hardwood flooring in a room with a slope or where the floor is uneven within the room, you might not be able to float the floor. The floating system relies on a flat surface so the flooring doesn’t slide around. Concrete subfloors that are sloped like a ramp or wooden subfloors that have significant high or low spots will cause a problem.

Glue-Down Wood Flooring

A glue-down floor is actually attached to the subfloor. You can think of it as a more permanent option than a floating floor.

These boards will usually still use a tongue-and-groove system, but the boards won’t actually lock together. This system is just to aid in installation and make the floor more stable.

You might spend a little more money on adhesive for this style of hardwood floor than you would spend on the vapor-barrier paper under a floating floor. Installing a glue-down floor definitely requires more technical skill and more time than an equivalent floating floor.

If you want the ultimate stability and strength from your hardwood flooring, a glue-down model is good for you.

Advantages of Glue-Down Wood Floors

  • Solid Feeling Underfoot – If you’re concerned about the possibility of a hollow or squishy feeling of a floating hardwood floor, you will probably prefer glued flooring. There will be no room for vibration or shifting between the flooring and the subfloor. Every step will feel solid.
  • Good for Uneven or Sloped Rooms – If your home has a hallway that slopes up from one level to another, or if you have a wooden subfloor that has some high or low spots, you need a flooring that will secure directly to the concrete or wood below. This will ensure that the wood does not shift around the room at all.
  • Stays In Place – Glue-Down hardwood floors are a good choice for laundry rooms, kitchens, or other rooms where you will be storing heavy objects like appliances. Since every plank is fastened to the subfloor, no amount of weight on top will shift or damage the hardwood.

Disadvantages of Glue-Down Wood Floors

  • Difficult to Remove – Because every plank will be glued to the floor with a strong flooring adhesive, removing a glue-down wood floor is difficult. After prying and popping up the boards, you will have to spend hours removing the residue from the subfloor. Do not lay a glue-down hardwood floor that you ever plan to remove.
  • Bad for Variable Climates – A hardwood floor that’s fastened with glue will have very limited room to expand and contract when the temperature or humidity vary. Although the glue acts like a moisture barrier to limit these factors, you need to bear in mind that if your house has an extremely unreliable climate, a glue-down floor might not adjust as easily as a floating floor.
  • More Difficult to Install – Glue-down floors require an even coat of the right type of flooring adhesive. It takes some skill to apply it properly, and if you make a mistake it is not a very forgiving process. You should probably not attempt a glue-down wood floor DIY project unless you have some experience with troweled adhesives and flooring.

Should I Float or Glue a Wood Floor?

If you are trying to decide which method to choose for your new hardwood floor, you may find the following parameters helpful. They show the advantages and disadvantages from above in action to help you decide which type of flooring is best for your home.

How Level is the Subfloor?

If you have a concrete subfloor that is uneven or sloped, you likely need to install glue-down flooring so that the wood does not slide around or flex under foot. If you have an uneven subfloor that is made of wood, you can install a floating floor only if you first lay down a layer of thin plywood underlayment to correct the subfloor. This can be an expensive extra step.

Are Variable Temperatures and Humidity a Problem?

Floating hardwood floors can expand and contract as one big piece of wood, and the small gap you leave around the walls when you install them will give the flooring somewhere to go when it expands. Glue-down floors, on the other hand, can only handle very slight variations in climate that will cause the wood to expand or contract.

If you know your house has frequent (major) swings in humidity or temperature, choose a floating floor to accommodate this.

Do You Want to DIY?

Floating flooring is quite a bit simpler to install yourself, even if you don’t have flooring experience. You need fewer tools and technical skills than you do to install a glue-down floor.

Which Floor is the Cheapest?

It can be hard to say which option is cheaper. If the conditions are just right for a floating floor (flat and even subfloor), you will probably save money on labor hours and materials since you don’t need to buy glue. However, if your room is going to require a layer of leveling underlayment plywood, the cost of a floating floor may exceed the glue-down option.

If you own a home with a basement, chances are you’ve thought of putting it to better use. That ping-pong table stopped keeping the kids busy a long time ago and now, all it does is hold up a bunch of boxes. What’s stored inside them is anyone’s guess anymore. 

If the space is truly a basement, there is probably some sort of opening besides the door at the top of the stairs. A transom style window or two. Possibly several of these. If your house is built into a hill, your basement might even have an exit door. Cellars don’t have this. 

As long as there’s some form of egress and it stays dry even during the rainy season, then you’re in luck. Your basement could be an excellent candidate for use as a functional living space. Think home office or maybe a rental unit. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what makes engineered hardwood a good choice for installation over concrete. We’ll also discuss the DIY installation of engineered hardwood and preventive measures to ensure its durability and longevity. 

What is Engineered Hardwood? 

Engineered hardwood planks are constructed in layers. The surface is made of the same wood as a regular wood plank. The surface layer is bonded to a core that’s made of several thin layers of plywood pieces that are crisscrossed and bonded together. There are as many types of engineered wood as there are species of trees. This makes for a wide selection of species and colors. 

Is Concrete a Suitable Substrate for Engineered Wood Floors? 

Honestly, it has nothing to do with any kind of fear of commitment; but there’s simply no way to answer “yes” or “no” to this question. So, the answer is; “It depends”. 

It depends largely on the moisture content of the concrete that will be supporting your engineered hardwood floor. You’ll need a concrete moisture meter. Testing is something you can do on your own. Follow your flooring manufacturer’s recommendations to determine if your concrete floor requires a moisture barrier between it and your new floor. 

Also, if you intend to glue your floor, it might help to know that some types of adhesives are also intended as moisture barriers. Because these two-in-one products are still new, they’re in short supply and retailers don’t seem to be able to keep many units of them in stock.  

More importantly, you should know that lack of defense against moisture isn’t merely a  cause of a failed installation. Lack of proactive protection in accordance with the flooring manufacturer’s recommendations is also a cause for a voided warranty.  

Is Engineered Wood Suitable for Installation in a Basement?

The layered construction of its core makes engineered wood especially durable and less prone to expansion and shifting caused by environmental changes. It’s this type of construction that makes engineered hardwood so well suited to basements and other challenging environments.  

Choosing Between Installation Types For Engineered Wood Floor on Concrete

Most concrete floors require a barrier to protect the installed floor from the moisture they release. Trapped moisture can lead to mold, mildew, loss of adhesion. 

Moisture can also cause a wood floor to warp and it can cause the layers of engineered wood to separate and lift or curl upward. 

Nailed Engineered Wood Floor

To nail floorboards in place, the substrate must be made of wood. This means you’ll need to lay plywood, oriented strand board, or particleboard over the concrete. Again, to protect the wood from moisture contained in the concrete, an underlayment between the concrete and wood subfloor may be required.

Glued Engineered Wood Floor

Unless you intend to use a two-in-one adhesive, that is to say, an adhesive that’s also a moisture barrier, you’ll probably need to pass on this option. Gluing floorboards to the underlayment that sits on the concrete is not recommended. 

Floated Engineered Hardwood Floor

Most engineered wood floors manufactured today are the tongue and groove kind. The boards interlock with one another so that neither glue nor nails are required to keep them in place. By virtue of this interlocking, the boards become a single, large sheet. This sheet sits on top of an underlayment to protect it from moisture that might come up from underneath it. Thus, the floor “floats”.

Between the interlocking capability and the way engineered wood is made, this is the type of installation most recommended for engineered wood over concrete in basements especially. 

It’s also important to consider that a protective underlayment is also an excellent way to muffle sound. This can be a godsend when it comes to basements where sounds tend to echo, amplify, and bounce around. 

Preparing To Install an Engineered Wood Floor on Concrete

Environmental Conditions

Concrete isn’t the only place where moisture can be a challenge. The intended environment of the engineered wood floor should always be paid equal attention. EMC (Environmental moisture content) should be evaluated using an EMC reader.  

If the EMC is higher than recommended by your floor’s manufacturer, measures must be taken to reduce it and to keep it reduced. A dehumidifier is a good way to do this. 

There is also the matter of ambient air temperature. It should be reasonably consistent and it should always measure between 60F and 80F. 

Acclimation

It’s extremely important to put the boxes that contain your new floor inside the room where you plan to install them to allow the boards to acclimate to their intended environment. Some manufacturers suggest removing the boards from the packaging. None advise against it. Depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, the acclimation period is usually two to seven days

Racking

Racking is a term defined as the laying out of the floorboards in advance of the actual installation. Doing this allows for staggered color variations and lengths whereas they might be grouped in one place if installed as they’re pulled from the box. Racking a floor also allows for any defective pieces to be withheld for return to the manufacturer. 

Patching and Leveling

For your concrete slab to function as a subfloor, holes, cracks, and low spots need to be patched. The subfloor also needs to be level for your engineered wood floor to be level. A deviation of 3/16” over a 10’ span is the usual maximum allowable. 

Before taking on the tasks of patching and leveling, the subfloor must be clean and free of loose debris. Nothing dramatic, but if there are any large, greasy, or oily stains, these could cause loss of adhesion. Use a degreasing, grill, or oven cleaning type of solution to eliminate them.  

For holes and large chips in your concrete subfloor, use a self-leveling concrete patching compound. Very carefully follow the instructions on the back of the package. Allow the patching compound to cure completely. 

Once the patching compound has cured, use a level to determine if the floor is level. If any area of the floor is off-level by more than ⅜” over a span of 10’, this will need to be corrected by the leveling process.  

In some cases, the concrete might have several low areas. If you’ve ever wet mopped your concrete floor, these areas evidenced themselves by puddling or being the last to dry. There might even be a white ring around them. These areas are also part of the focus of the leveling process. 

Use a primer and leveling compound to level your concrete floor. As the term suggests, the primer should be applied first as this will ensure adhesion of the leveling compound to the existing concrete. 

Applied with a smooth trowel and a floor squeegee, the leveling compound will also serve to fill small cracks and spalls or chips. 

Again, the importance of following the instructions on the back of the products’ packaging to the letter, can’t be overemphasized. 

Underlayment/Moisture Barrier

If your moisture readings call for it, you’ll need to apply an underlayment with moisture or vapor protection over your now level concrete substrate. These underlayments are available in sheets or rolls, and in thicknesses from 2mm to 6mm. 

Quite candidly, less than 3mm thick won’t affect the moisture blocking aspect, but it won’t have much effect on the noise aspect either. 

Laying The Boards

You’ll Need: 

Determining Gap

The instructions that are packed with your engineered hardwood indicate the size of the gap between your floors and walls. In most cases,  ½” is recommended. 

For some reason, some contractors will tell you to leave a gap between two perpendicular or intersecting walls in a room only. This is incorrect.  

It’s also very foolish. 

If you think about it, wood doesn’t simply decide to expand ½” to the east and north sides of a room only. It expands in all directions. If the floor isn’t gapped on all sides, the side that isn’t gapped will push against the abutting wall and shift the floor toward the gapped side. This makes the floor liable to fold or buckle next to the east and north sides of obstacles such as posts, islands, and doorways. Gapping is why baseboards (skirting) were invented and yes, even if you have cinder block walls, they can be attached. So go ahead and gap your floors on all sides. You’ll be okay. Honest. 

Cutting the Boards

Since you’ve already racked your floors in a way that the end seams are staggered, then you should already know which pieces need to be cut. You’ll also have a pretty good idea of how long the boards should be at each end. 

However, because it isn’t terribly likely that the room isn’t perfectly square, cutting end pieces in advance should be avoided. 

Assuming you’ve decided to float your engineered hardwood floor, it’s best to start fitting the pieces together according to your racking layout. Start from the center of the room and make each of your cuts when it’s time. 

When you’ve determined the precise center point of the room, snap a chalk line in either direction. The lines should intersect forming 90-degree angles. You’ll be using these lines for reference to keep your floorboards aligned. If it appears the pieces that run along either wall will need to be cut to a more narrow width than the instructions allow, you’ll need to remove a board shift and nudge the rest to make things work. Remember, you’re also cutting to allow for a gap. 

By the way, the shifting and nudging thing is part of a floating floor’s charm!

Finishing Your Engineered Wood Floor

Another part of a floating floor’s charm is that now that you’ve snapped in the last board, you don’t need to wait for glue or lacquer to cure and dry. While you were doing your research and shopping for your new floor, you probably discovered that most engineered wood floors are pre-finished. You can walk on your new floor right away. You can also move furniture right away. 

This means you can set up that bar along with the ice bucket and libations. Pull up a stool and raise your glass to yourself for a job well done. 

Aftercare, Maintenance, and Monitoring of Your Engineered Wood Floor

To keep your engineered wood floors look their best:

  • Clean spills immediately
  • Keep your new floor free of dust and debris as these can scratch your floor’s finish
  • Use a good floor vacuum or your vacuum’s floor accessory tool. 
  • Damp mop only using an appropriate cleaning solution
  • Exchange shoes for house slippers upon entering
  • Place throw rugs in high traffic areas
  • Keep furniture from slipping by using furniture cups
  • Place felt pads under chair and barstool feet
  • Lift storage boxes instead of dragging
  • Keep pets’ nails trimmed 
  • Keep potted plants in stands or furniture
  • Monitor the EMC and continue dehumidifying

As you can see, keeping your new engineered wood floors in good condition is more about what to avoid and what not to allow. Upkeep is relatively simple and takes very little time. No one would guess that a floor that looks so good could require so little effort. 

Besides the way it looks, the best thing about your engineered wood floor is the money you saved installing it yourself. Enjoy!

One summer afternoon you come down to lunch and you suddenly notice something is not quite right. When your sports magazine slips from your grasp and you bend to pick it up from the floor, you discover what it is. The smooth glossy hardwood surface seems somewhat uneven, dipping slightly in places. What is it and what could have caused it? Can it be fixed and how?

In this article, we shall be examining all these questions in detail and providing answers to each of them to enable you to resolve the problem as efficiently as possible and restore your floors to their initial state.

What Is Cupping in Hardwood Floors?

Cupping in hardwood floors refers to a condition that causes individual planks to rise at the sides. It may be considered to be the opposite of crowning where the center of a plank rises higher than the edges.

In both cases, your floor will lose its even smoothness resulting in its surface becoming irregular. However, in the case of cupping, its planks will take on a concave or cup-like shape hence the name of the condition.

Cupping in wood floors

Causes of Hardwood Floor Cupping

The main cause of cupping in hardwood floors is the presence of excess moisture in the immediate vicinity.

The material from which hardwood floors are made is especially susceptible to moisture due to the tendency of wood to absorb it, particularly when it is present in large quantities to adjust its own moisture levels to match those of its surroundings.

Cupping affects both engineered and solid hardwood and can occur under the following conditions:

  • Spills: If spills are not cleaned instantly or properly, the fluid will seep into the wood resulting in its swelling and the alteration of its form.
  • Leaks: Because leaks often take a while to detect, they can be especially damaging to hardwood floors due to the prolonged exposure to moisture they cause.
  • Excess subfloor moisture: If your basement or crawl space happens to be affected by dampness, it may cause cupping in the floorboards in the room above.
  • Changes in weather conditions: Certain climates experience rather warm and humid summers and the season can result in elevated levels of moisture and with it the risk of cupping.
  • Improper installation of flooring: Hardwood flooring must be given time to adjust to surrounding moisture levels by means of a process known as acclimating or conditioning, before it is installed. Failure to take this step could result in cupping in a matter of months.

How to Fix Cupping in Hardwood Floors 

It is possible to fix cupping in hardwood floors by taking the following steps:

Ascertaining Moisture Levels

This should be the first step you take before attempting to repair or replace all or part of your flooring or before seeking professional assistance.

This can be done by using a wood moisture meter to check moisture levels in every part of your home.

Conducting due diligence in this regard will enable you to determine moisture levels and their source, and play a key role in enabling you to determine the next step.

Address the Source of the Moisture

Common causes of excess moisture in your home include:

  • Leaking pipes: If the cause of the problem happens to be leaking pipes, you will need to have them repaired.
  • A leaking dishwasher: In the case of this appliance you may need to take a look at its float switch, its gasket, the hoses, the valves, or the door latch. It may even be a matter of using the correct dishwasher detergent or simply ensuring it sits level.
  • A leaking fridge: This may be due to the blockage of the defrost drain or the uneven placing of the appliance. However, if neither of these issues happen to be the cause, professional assistance may be required to resolve the leakages.
  • A damp crawl space:  This may be resolved by placing a vapor barrier to prevent moisture from filling your crawl space. However, you may need to call on the services of a water mitigation professional.

Regulate the Moisture Content of Your Home

This step can be especially effective if the cause of cupping is due to seasonal changes at different times of the year.

You will simply need to use a dehumidifier to eliminate the excess moisture in the air and restore conditions to optimal levels.  Depending on the level of moisture damage in this case and the promptness with which action is taken, you may see your floorboards return to normal.

Related Reading: How To Repair Water-Damaged Hardwood Floors

If the cupping is not reversed once you have taken this step, you may need to proceed to replacing your floor or sanding it.

In either case, you will have the option of relying on professional assistance or replacing or sanding your floor yourself.

Should You Sand Down Cupped Hardwood Floors?

major cupping in wood floors

You can do so. However, you will need to ensure you have carried out the steps enumerated above with regards to ascertaining moisture levels, addressing the cause of the moisture, and regulating its levels in your home. You will also need to ensure that your hardwood floor and the subfloor are both completely dry — a state which can take a long time for both to attain.

Failing to do so could result in the wooden planks curving upwards at their centers (crowning) when it does dry out eventually.

To repair your hardwood floor by sanding when you are certain of complete dryness and are certain that the cupping is permanent, you will need to obtain the following items and implement the steps described below:

  • Sandpaper in four grades (36-, 40-, 50- and 80-grit)
  • Floor sander
  • Orbital sander
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Tape
  • Ear protection
  • Dust mask
  • Microfiber mop
  • Hardwood floor cleaner
  • Soft-bristled broom or brush
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Floor stain
  • Floor finish

1. Emptying the Room

Sanding involves minute dust particles being released in immense quantities into the air, and they may permeate your curtains, rugs, or upholstery if they are left in the room. Besides, you will need to have access to the entire section of the floor which is affected by cupping, and any furniture present may prevent you from being able to do so.

2. Preparing the Room

Once the room has been emptied, you will need to seal every entrance and aperture with tape and plastic sheeting.

You will also need to remove the shoe molding to ensure you are able to get to every part of your floor.

Because it is important to have a clean surface when sanding, you will need to sweep the floor and mop it as well with a microfiber mop.

3. Starting the Sanding Process 

You will need to wear your dust mask and your ear protection before you start.  Next, you will need to start sanding with the roughest grade of sandpaper out of the four (36-grit) since it is the best for leveling the wood.

Here it is important to follow the grain of the floor since failing to do so can actually result in considerably more wood than necessary being removed.

Any tight spots which cannot be accessed by the floor sander will need to be tackled with an orbital sander using sandpaper of a slightly higher grade (about 40-grit).

Once you have covered the room in its entirety, you will need to vacuum the floor. 

4. Changing to a Higher Grade of Sandpaper

This step involves sanding the surface with sandpaper of a slightly higher grade to ensure you completely level any elevation due to the curving of the hardwood.

You will need to replace the 36-grit and 40-grit sandpapers on the floor and orbital sanders with 50-grit sandpaper.

At the end of this step, you will need to vacuum the floor as for the first step.

5. Changing to Your Highest Grade of Sandpaper

During this phase of the sanding process, you will need to replace the 50-grit sandpaper on both sanders with 80-grit to ensure your floor is smooth enough for you to apply the finish to it.

As with the previous two steps you will also need to vacuum once you are done.

6. Applying the Finish

You will need to thoroughly ventilate the room, by taking down the sheeting from the windows and doors. Next, you will need to slightly dampen a microfiber cloth and clean the floor against the grain and then wait for the floor to dry completely.  

You will then be able to stain the floor to your preferred color and then apply the finishing to it following which you will need to leave it to dry — a process that may take a day or even up to a week.

It is worth noting that sanding can be rather labor-intensive and many people prefer to hire the services of a professional to carry it out.

Will Cupped Hardwood Floors Flatten Out Over Time?

Depending on the extent of the damage, and the promptness with which the exposure to the excess moisture is stopped, your cupped hardwood floors may flatten eventually.  

It is worth noting that they can take a considerable length of time to do so and as noted above, repairs or sanding should only be carried out once you are certain that cupping is permanent.

Image Credits

Hardwood floors are known for being durable and resilient, but they have one big weakness: water.

Wood flooring can stand up to years of heavy use, but a little water over time can ruin the beautiful hardwood.

Maybe you moved into a house with a damaged wood floor or maybe you have had a flood from the kitchen or bathroom plumbing. If you are noticing stained or warped wood or big gaps between boards, you have water damage.

There are some ways that you can repair water damage you find on your hardwood floors, but sometimes you will need to replace the flooring altogether.

This guide will help you identify the type of damage, find out how to repair or replace it, and teach you how to prevent future water damage.

How Can I Tell If I Have Water Damage on My Hardwood Floor?

If you recently had a small flood or water leak, you probably know that your wood floor has some water damage.

But if you’re not sure, you can inspect the floor visually for some of the signs of water-damaged flooring.

Wood Floor Staining

Water stains on a wood floor take the shape of an uneven ring that ripples across the wood from the water source. The stains can be either light or dark. Stains with a white outline are easier to repair at home than darker stains, which indicate a complete soaking of the hardwood floor.

Wood Floor Cupping

Cupping is one of the ways that hardwood flooring can warp out of shape when wet. You can identify cupping on your hardwood floor when the edges of the individual boards bend upward and are no longer even with the center part of the boards. It gets its name from the cup or bowl shape each plank takes when the edges rise up. Cupping can also make the gaps between floorboards expand, leaving uncomfortable cracks.

If you want to learn what to do about cupping on your hardwood floor, check out our article on cupping in hardwood floors.

Wood floor crowning

Wood Floor Crowning

Crowning occurs in a similar way to cupping, except the boards warp the opposite way. Crowning floorboards rise up in the middle, creating a bowed or bumpy appearance on each individual board. This is due to the floor pieces expanding and pressing into each other too much. Once the floor dries, it may leave large gaps between pieces.

Wood Floor Buckling

Buckling in wood floors

Buckling is the most extreme type of hardwood water damage. This is when the floor planks are pushed so tightly together that they actually detach from the subfloor. The extreme moisture in the wood causes each floorboard to expand. This can make a large hump in the floor or break the locking tongue-and-groove systems between boards.

Buckling is most likely if your hardwood flooring was installed poorly to begin with or in an extreme flood (such as gallons of water pouring in from a hurricane or a burst pipe).

If you suspect your water damage is so bad that the hardwood floor is buckling, check out our article specifically on buckling wood flooring.

Should You Fix or Replace Water-Damaged Wood Floors?

Once you have water damage on your wood floor, you might wonder if you can get away with fixing the floor instead of paying to replace it. This is especially tempting if your water damage is only a small area of the room.

It may not be safe to live with a water-damaged floor if it was wet enough for mold and other bacteria to grow.

In cases of severe floods or a leak of tainted water (like sewer water), you probably need to replace the whole floor to be safe. These molds or bacteria can be extremely dangerous to live with. Plus, severe leaks can weaken the subfloor and other structural pieces of your home.

If you are concerned that your wood floor may be growing mold, read our article about how to remove mold on a hardwood floor.

If your water damage came from clean water and you are able to dry the floor out completely, you can think about fixing the floor instead.

The problem with fixing hardwood floors is that it can be difficult to match the finish on a repaired section with the original finish.

If the water damage is in an out-of-the-way place or if you can throw a rug over it to hide the difference, repairing it may be a good option. Or, if the hardwood is only in one room of your house, you may be able to refinish the entire floor so it comes out an even color.

Your choice will depend on safety and whether you want to live with a repaired area that may look different than the rest of the floor.

You might consider replacing a section of the hardwood floor with a cheaper and more durable material, like ceramic tile. This is especially common in front of an entry door. You can remove the damaged section of hardwood and install tiles with a neat transition rather than having a section of hardwood that was obviously repaired.

Identifying the Source of the Water

If you find water damage on your hardwood floor that wasn’t there before, you need to be sure where the water came from. The source of the water makes a big difference in the decision of whether you should fix or replace your floors because some water sources may carry harmful bacteria.

What to Do When You Can’t Find The Leak

Sometimes the source of water damage is not obvious. You will want to fix problems before you fix the hardwood flooring so that you don’t have the same damage again on your newly repaired floor.

You can usually narrow water damage in a home down to two categories: external water sources and internal water sources.

External water sources dampen your home through the walls, roof, or foundation. Common external sources include:

  • Overwhelming amounts of water from a storm or flood
  • Overwatering a yard
  • Doors and windows with leaky seals, or that are left open
  • A leaking roof
  • A cracked foundation or inadequate or broken drainage system (sump pump)

Internal water sources come from inside the house. Some common leaks include:

  • Broken plumbing seals, such as radiator pipes or drains under a sink
  • Leaking pipes inside a wall or floor (especially if the pipes have frozen)
  • Failing hot water heaters
  • Soft hoses such as the water supply on a refrigerator or dishwasher (these often get pinched when moving appliances and should be replaced every few years)
  • Overflow from a sink or shower
  • A spilled mop bucket or mopping with too much water

These examples can probably help you find the source of the leak so it can be repaired. If you still have no idea where your water damage is coming from or you suspect it is coming from inside your walls, you probably need to call a plumber.

Is The Water Fresh or Dirty?

The water that stained your floor should fit into one of the following three groups:

  • Clean Water, such as rainwater from an open window, overflow from a sink or tub, or a leaking hot water heater. This water is mostly pure and will carry very few bacteria. Unless the area was wet for several days (enough for mold to grow), this kind of water damage is probably not dangerous.
  • Used or “Gray” Water, such as that from a drainpipe under a sink or shower, has been exposed to some dirt and other waste. If this kind of damage doesn’t dry quickly, it will grow bacteria and mold.
  • Dirty or “Black” Water is tainted water or sewage. This is from a leaking, overflowing, or backed-up septic line. This water is full of dangerous bacteria. You can try to sanitize the wood if it is only a minor leak (1 or 2 liters), but most of the time a black water leak will require replacing the floor. You should wear gloves and a filtering mask when you clean any area damaged by black water.

Identifying the source of the water damage will help you decide whether it’s safe to repair the floor. Of course, this is also the time to correct the problems that allowed water to get onto your floor such as by replacing window seals or calling a plumber to fix a pipe.

How to Fix Water-Damaged Wood Flooring

Depending on how much of the flooring was affected by water damage, you might need to call a professional to repair your floor. They will be more experienced in sanding and staining the floor evenly. It can be a difficult process, but if you are confident in your DIY abilities, you should be able to pull it off.

After you get the floor completely dry and knock down the warped and water-damaged areas, the process is mostly the same as refinishing a worn-out floor. Feel free to read our other articles on that process, but we will include the steps here.

Step 1: Dry the Floor if it is Still Wet

If your water damage is new, you will need to dry the boards off before you can really assess the damage or make any repairs.

Standing water on the surface can be sucked up with a shop vacuum on wet mode. A squeegee can help push the water toward the vacuum hose.

Then the wood needs time to dry out internally. You can speed this process up by using fans and open windows to ventilate the room. You can also rent or buy a dehumidifier machine.

Be careful not to dry the floor too fast. Applying heat to a wet floor, for instance, can lead to more cupping or crowning. Hardwood needs to adjust gradually to temperature and humidity changes, so stick to natural airflow methods to dry the wood.

Step 2: Check for Extra Floorboards in Storage and Install Them

Usually, flooring installers will leave a few leftover pieces of wood at the house when they put in a floor. If the flooring in your house is decades old, you probably won’t have this luxury, but it doesn’t hurt to look.

A few pieces of flooring may be enough for a flooring installer to remove the damaged boards and replace them with new ones that will match perfectly. This is potentially the easiest way to repair your water-damaged floor, so look around.

Removing the old boards and laying new ones requires experience and the right tools. This is especially true if the wood floor is glued or nailed down. You most likely need a flooring expert to come to your house and replace the boards.

If the match on the finish is close after you install the new boards, this may be all you need to do. If the color difference is really bad, you will want to go on to the refinishing process.

Note that buffing and refinishing the floor will not only be more difficult, but more expensive. You will have to get the tools and supplies to refinish the floor.

Step 3: Sand the Floor

After you place new planks where the damaged ones were, or if you do not have any planks to weave into the floor, you are going to need to sand the flooring.

The right sander for the job is one that is specifically made for flooring. These have a large sanding wheel and a heavy head so that you can sand large areas quickly and evenly. You will probably need to rent it from a hardware store or flooring company.

Use a coarse grit sanding wheel first (around 60-80 grit) and follow with a fine sander (100-150 grit or a fine sanding screen).

You should sand the edges of the room by hand because it can be hard to maneuver the flooring sander into the edges and impossible to reach the corners. Use a fine sandpaper between 100 and 150 grit. Sand with the woodgrain.

If at all possible, you should sand the entire surface for the hardwood floor, or at least the entire room with water damage.

Move the sander across the entire surface of the floor, overlapping a few inches on each stroke. If you do not get the water-damaged sections flat on the first pass, you can try a second pass.

Do not sand the floor too many times unless you are sure that your planks are very thick. Taking too much thickness off the floor will cause problems.

Note: Wear a mask or respirator when using a flooring scuff sander. These machines will kick up a lot of dust as they sand the finish and wood.

Step 4: Clean the Sanded Hardwood Flooring

Use a vacuum to remove all of the sawdust you created by sanding the floor. Follow the vacuuming up with a dry microfiber cloth or dust mop. This will get the fine dust off of the floor.

This process will also remove other dirt and make the stain adhere better to the wood.

It’s good to do this not just after the sanding is complete, but every five minutes while you sand. 

You can also vacuum the sander wheel to remove the dust. If it clogs up too much, it won’t sand evenly. 

Step 5: Stain the Sanded Wood Floor

Following the directions on the can, apply the desired color of stain to the hardwood floor. Try to select a stain that is specifically made for hardwood floors.

Note that most wood stains will put off some strong fumes. You need to wear a respirator if possible, or at least ventilate the room by opening windows and using fans (not directly as they will dry out your stain too fast and blow dust around).

Start by applying a thin, even coat of stain to a small area (less than 1 square meter). Brush the edges and corners first to make sure you don’t miss them. Use a clean rag to wipe up all the excess wood stain.

You will have permanent lines in the finished coat if you let the leading edge of your stain dry. Try to work quickly and don’t leave any edge to dry for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Apply the stain evenly across the whole room.

Note: Make sure to have an exit strategy when you start staining. You don’t want to step across a wet stain to get out of a corner. Work from the deepest corners of the room toward the door.

Step 6: Apply Polyurethane

A coat of polyurethane on top of the stain will protect the floor from scuffs and create a water-resistant barrier.

You can roll polyurethane onto the floor like paint after the stain is completely dry.

The key to applying polyurethane is that you need a very thin, even coat to create a nice-looking finish. Choosing the right roller will help.

Don’t use a regular fuzzy paint roller or you will leave a coat that’s way too thick. Use a dense foam roller for a smooth finish. Also, use a long handle for the roller so you can see better while you work.

Cut in the edges of the room with a good quality paintbrush first and then use the roller to complete the center of the room.

Give the refinished floor a day to dry before moving furniture back into it and you will have a fully improved hardwood floor!

Preventing Water Damage to Your Hardwood Flooring

It’s always easier and cheaper to take care of problems before they become problems. Take care to avoid wood floor water damage in the first place.

Here are some ideas to prevent water damage to your hardwood flooring:

  • Keep doors and windows closed when you are away from home and repair small leaks as soon as you notice them.
  • Hire only licensed contractors to work on your plumbing.
  • Be especially careful of rubber or plastic hoses on washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators tha.t can break over time.
  • Invest in shower curtains, shoe mats, and other items to keep daily water off your floor.
  • When you clean your floor, do not bring a big bucket of mop water where it can spill on your hardwood floor and mop only with a small amount of water.
  • Clean up all spills immediately.
  • Keep your house warm enough to avoid freezing temperatures that can burst a pipe.

Whatever type of flooring you have in your home, you want your floor to look its best. To accomplish this, the floor has to be clean. 

Yet, different flooring types call for different cleaning methods. For most wood floors, you need only be concerned with cleaning the wood finish and not the wood itself. But what about unfinished wood floors? 

In this article, we’ll answer frequently asked questions about cleaning unfinished wood floors. We’ll also discuss practical cleaning solutions that will leave your unfinished wood floors looking as they should in no time. 

cleaning stained unfinished wood floors

How Do I Know If My Wood Floor is Finished Or Not?

Granted, different flooring types and colors have been on trend and off throughout the past decade or more. But during this time, for whatever reason, high gloss finish has been decidedly out of fashion. This can make it difficult to tell if a protective finish coat has been applied to the surface of your wood floor. 

However, there’s still an easy way to tell if your wood floor is finished. Put a few drops of water onto an inconspicuous area of your wood floor. 

Now, leave it there for a minute or two. 

If the water stays on the surface, your floor has a finish on it. Just be sure not to put the drops of water near any seams or you could mistakenly assume your floor is unfinished. 

Should I Leave My Wood Floor Unfinished?

If you prefer the natural, rustic look of unfinished floors, you’re not alone. But you should know that raw wood floors are more prone to stains, scratches, scuffs, and wood insects without the protection of a finish coat. 

Yet, the process for cleaning a raw wood floor isn’t terribly different from cleaning a finished one. Both scenarios call for very gentle treatment.    

Cleaning Unfinished Wood Floors — What Not To Do

Before going any further, It’s probably best to get what not to do out of the way and behind us. This list also includes:

What To Avoid And What Not To Bother With 

Water

Less is more. Avoid puddling, ponding, and allowing floors to air dry. 

String Mop And Bucket

This deluge cleaning method can do more harm than good. It’s also a lot of work. Most professional cleaning services tossed out their string mops and buckets years ago. They now use equipment and products that are less damaging, less unwieldy, and more effective.

Steam Mop

If water should be avoided, then it’s probably best to also avoid injecting wood floors with water heated to 212F

Steel Wool/Steel Brush

Microscopic fragments of steel wool tend to remain on the floor. When these particles rust, they’ll stain. 

Vinegar

Many product manufacturers invested vast amounts of human and financial resources to create low VOC content, low odor products that work. Mission accomplished. The products they’ve come up with are very effective. 

These products are safe for people, kids, pets, and the environment too. These products include cleaning solutions. Many of these solutions are safe for use on a variety of surface types and they don’t need to be rinsed. Some of these products have a very mild, but pleasant scent. 

So, what reasonable explanation could there possibly be for our nation’s incessant predilection with vinegar? Vinegar has the potential to stain an unfinished floor irremediably and it also smells like …like rotting fruit of all things. It’s one thing to leave the stuff in the pantry next to the olive oil. But wiping the floors with it? There’s no reason to make your home smell like that if you don’t have to. There are better options.  

Trisodium Phosphate (TSP)

Beginning July 1, 2010, the sale of TSP became limited or prohibited in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and New York. (source

California had restrictions in place prior to this time. 

The reason for the prohibition of trisodium phosphate is the phosphate aspect. Once applied, TSP is carried away in rinse water, also referred to as gray water. The gray water makes its way to ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers where the phosphates fertilize algae and mold. The algae and mold become so prolific that no other form of life can exist wherever they’re present. Ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers become gooey, foamy, and devoid of all flora and fauna. 

Of course, we could and probably will go on discussing the virtues of wood floors and singing their praises. But if cleaning a floor or ANY thing involves the use of something that creates a scenario as the one described, then how important can it be?

Fortunately, there are ways to clean your unfinished wood floors that don’t involve threatening our own survival by rubbing nature the wrong way. 

For General, Routine Cleaning of Unfinished Wood Floors

You’ll Need To Have and Apply the following As Appropriate :

  • Rubber Gloves: Rubber dishwashing gloves tend to be thicker and less prone to tearing than Latex.
  • Floor Vacuum Or Floor Accessory Vacuum Attachment: A floor vacuum’s row of short, soft bristles located in close proximity to your unfinished wood floor is an extremely effective way to remove dust and debris.
  • A Soft-Bristled Broom: Provided you don’t sweep abrasive debris across the floor instead of directly into a dustpan, this type of broom is also effective in the removal of dust and debris. 
  • Sweeping Compound: Sweeping compound is a sort of moisturized sawdust. Lightly toss small handfuls onto the floor and sweep it up with your soft-bristled broom. Dust and dirt are absorbed by the compound. This keeps them anchored where they might otherwise be disturbed and sent into the air only to settle on your floors again later.

Note: It’s called “sweeping” compound for a reason. You’ll risk frying your vacuum if you attempt to suck up the compound with it. 

The moisture contained in the sweeping compound is all the moisture that should be involved in the general, routine cleaning of an unfinished wood floor. 

How To Deep Clean Unfinished Wood Floors

In Addition to The General Cleaning Items Above, You’ll Need: 

  • Respirator 
  • Mop With Flat Microfiber Mop Head: The wider the mop head, the better. A wide mop head covers more floor in less time. 
  • Clean Terry Cloth or Microfiber Rags
  • 1 Quart Spray Bottle
  • 1 Quart Hot Water
  • Mineral Spirits: The fumes released by mineral spirits are very heavy and noxious. Be sure the room you’re working in is well ventilated. If the ventilation is insufficient, wear a respirator and protective gloves.
  • Borax: Borax (boron) is a mineral that’s used as an insecticide, an all-purpose cleaner,  and a flame retardant. It also eliminates and repels fungi, wood rot, termites, wood boring beetles, bark beetles, and carpenter ants.  Properly diluted, the cost of a borax liquid solution is about 0.02/oz. All this makes for an excellent wood floor cleaner.
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap: Instead of borax, you can use Murphy’s Oil Soap that’s sold in a spray bottle. 

Directions For Deep Cleaning Unfinished Wood Floors

  • Remove dust, dirt, and debris as explained in General Routine Cleaning, above
  • Dampen the mop with water
  • Dissolve  2 oz borax into 1-quart hot water. 
  • Transfer the borax solution into the spray bottle. Allow any undissolved granules to remain untransferred. This will keep them from clogging the sprayer. 
  • Working in sections of about 3’ x 3’, spray the borax solution or if you prefer, Murphy’s Oil Soap onto the floor. 
  • Mop the sprayed section. 
  • Use a terry cloth or microfiber rag to wipe the mopped section dry
  • Move onto the next section of the floor. Spray, mop, dry. 
  • Continue until the entire floor is clean.

How To Remove Stains From An Unfinished Wood Floor

If There Is A Stain That Cleaning Your Unfinished Wood Floor Didn’t Remove

  • Put a small amount of mineral spirits onto a clean rag. 
  • Dab the saturated part of the rag onto the stain, increasing pressure as necessary.
  • Add more mineral spirits onto a fresh section of the rag.  Continue to dab, don’t wipe the stain. 

Unless the stain is a deeply set water or urine stain, this process should ultimately remove it. 

If the stain is deep, you can try hydrogen peroxide to remove it or you can sand it, or both. Start with 80 grit, then 100, 120, and finally,150. 

If the stains on your unfinished wood floor are considerable in size or number, you might want to consider renting an orbital or drum sander to sand the entire floor. 

Although sanding a large area of wood floor is another project in itself, the information with respect to cleaning still applies as does the information contained in the rest of this article. 

How To Make An Unfinished Wood Floor Shine

Although it’s not as popular as it was during the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, the application of paste wax still gives as warm a luster to wood floors as ever. If you intend to wax your unfinished wood floor, you’ll need the following: 

  • Terry cloth towels or rags
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Sponge Mop
  • Respirator
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Paste wax. You can choose a clear paste wax or one with a wood stain. You can also use a liquid floor wax

Applying Paste Wax To An Unfinished Wood Floor

Before you start, you’ll need to be sure to take care of yourself. Although the fumes tend to dissipate reasonably quickly, waxes of this kind are nevertheless solvent-based. The work area must be well ventilated. Consider wearing a respirator. Protective gloves should also be worn.

Working in sections of 3’ x 3’, put a tablespoon of wax onto a clean cloth and coat the floor wiping in the direction of the grain. If you’re using liquid wax, put a tablespoon of it on the floor and use a mop to coat the floor. You will need to use a cloth to apply wax in corners and tight spots. 

Allow an hour for the wax to dry before applying the next coat. Liquid wax requires at least two coats whereas its solid counterpart requires not more than two coats. 

Buffing Unfinished Wood Floor

The buffing process additionally protects waxed wood floors by moving the wax further into the wood’s surface. 

Use a cloth to buff the wax into the floor. For liquid floor wax, use a terry cloth rag. 

Alternatively, you can rent a floor buffer for about $50 daily. This might be money well spent as this type of machine makes quick work of buffing and polishing. 

While it represents some effort on the owner’s part, the choice to leave a wood floor unfinished is becoming increasingly popular. The reason for this is the considerable savings realized by not having to restore the floor which involves hiring a professional. 

buckled hardwood floors

Buckling is the term that’s used when one or more areas of a floor swell or lift upwards.

In some cases, the floor might have only one swollen area whereas, in others, the floor might appear to be wavy or undulating as the floorboards can arch upward several inches.

As you can imagine, the sight of a buckled wood floor can be pretty jarring. Let’s face it; this isn’t something that can be obscured by tossing a throw rug over it. A throw rug also won’t do much to resolve the problem or keep anyone from stumbling over it. Something needs to be done.

If buckling wood floors is a concern, read on to learn about causes, solutions, and ways to prevent this situation.

What Causes Wood Floors to Buckle?

Water

Hardwood floors can react to moisture in various ways. Buckling is a very significant reaction. So it’s natural to assume that a significant event preceded it such as a flood or an event that caused prolonged contact with water.

Humidity

There’s a reason gymnasiums have wood floors, but locker rooms do not. Locker rooms can be extremely damp and humid. If you live in a tropical climate, or in a region that tends to be very muggy during the summer months especially, your hardwood floors are at greater risk for buckling.

Lack of or Incomplete Acclimation

Before a wood floor is installed it must be acclimated to its immediate environs. To do this, the floorboards are placed in the room where they’re to be installed, and allowed to remain for at least two weeks before installation takes place. This allows the wood to “breathe” or draw in the moisture in the air so that it can expand as necessary.

This doesn’t mean the floorboards should be acclimated to greenhouse types of conditions or that the floors’ intended substrate shouldn’t have a limited moisture content. The moisture content of the substrate should be monitored using a moisture reader. Ambient air temperature should always be in the 60℉ to 80° range.

Installation Failure

It is only in very rare instances that a professional flooring installer will overlook or forget to do something crucial to a successful installation. 

On the other hand, laypersons are more likely to fail to appreciate critical steps when installing hardwood floors on their own. Overenthusiasm and assumption can play major roles as these can lead to failure to allow for long enough periods of acclimation and failure to leave enough room for their new hardwood floor to expand.

Another reason for buckling hardwood floors is the failure to install a moisture barrier between the substrate and the new floor itself. If a moisture meter wasn’t used prior to installation or the readings were ignored, the resulting lack of protection that a moisture membrane would have provided can cause trouble in the long run.

If you suspect installation failure has caused your hardwood floor to buckle, you’ll need to call your flooring installer right away.

Can You Repair Buckled Wood Floors?

On the other hand, if you and your flooring installer happen to be one and the same, you’ll need to look for ways to remedy the situation. If your wood floor hasn’t buckled too severely, there might be something you can try, but there’s no point in it until you do the following:

Identify The Source

warped hardwood floors

Firstly, it’s important to keep in mind that your hardwood wood floor has warped.

In most cases, the cause of a warped hardwood floor is moisture. So naturally, you’ll need to take measures to locate the culprit.

However, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Buckling is an extreme reaction. Such a reaction usually indicates that your hardwood floor has been directly exposed to more than mere moisture. Think!

The floor might have been underwater? BINGO!

A flood would certainly account for an extreme reaction.

But if your hardwood floor is no longer submerged for whatever reason (e.g., after being somehow roped into it yet again, while shopping for groceries with your mother, you were so thoroughly captivated by the dulcet tones of her delightful litany concerning the high price of produce, her bursitis, and her last husband, that you remembered you’d left the water running in the tub), then we can assume that the source is no longer an issue, 

However (there’s always a “however”!), because your floor can be directly exposed to water without you being aware of it, it’s time to bring your awareness up to date.

Assuming you don’t hear squishing sounds when you walk on your hardwood floor, you’ll need to look for other telltale signs of moisture.

Telltale Signs of Moisture That Can Cause Your Wood Floor to Buckle

Start by inspecting your walls. You’ll need to inspect your home’s interior and exterior walls. Look for walls that are:

  • Swollen
  • Mossy, moldy or mildewed
  • Bubbled or peeling
  • Water stained
  • Water Streaked
  • Seeping
  • Water, water, water…

These characteristics can be caused by

  • An improperly sealed window or door
  • A leaking pipe or condensation
  • A leaking faucet
  • An exposed sill plate.

A sill plate, also known as a sill, framing sill, or sill piece, is a piece of lumber usually a 2”x4”, that sits atop the length of a structure’s founding walls or footings of a structure. If your home’s foundation is made from poured concrete, a sill plate rests horizontally on top of the foundation and flush along the length of the foundation’s outer edges.

If you have no trouble locating part of your home’s sill plate, then it’s exposed to the elements. An exposed sill plate that’s soggy, swollen, water-stained, or rotting indicates that it is saturated or has been saturated at some point. A saturated sill plate is a potential troublemaker. 

  • A cable (Yes, a cable!)

If you have cable television service, satellite internet service, a low voltage security system, wired security cameras mounted on your home’s exterior walls, or anything that calls for a cable to pass through an exterior wall to some type of terminal inside, then the cable should first be looped before it’s fed into the exterior wall.

To prevent water from traveling along the part of the cable that runs past the exterior wall, this “drip loop” should be lower than the cable’s entry point. A cable that isn’t drip looped or isn’t properly looped can cause water damage.

This might not seem like a big deal, but in climates where there is heavy annual rainfall, the damage that can be caused by water that’s allowed to travel along a cable can become increasingly significant with each drenching.

Put The Cause of Your Buckled Wood Floors in Check

Once you’ve located the source of what’s causing your hardwood floor to buckle, it’s time to eliminate it. This will also help to stabilize your home’s humidity and moisture levels.

Until then, any effort to fix your buckled hardwood floor is likely to be wasted. 

How To Fix a Buckled Wood Floor

If your hardwood floors haven’t buckled too severely, your hardwood floor might right itself as it dries. You can also use a floor dryer to speed up the process. These are usually available for rent at your local home improvement center or you can buy one for under $60.

You can also help to straighten your hardwood floors by placing some weight on them as they dry. Just be sure to start with something light and continue to add weight a little at a time as the pressure helps the boards settle back into place.

If neither of these solutions does the trick, you’ll need to remove and replace the warped floorboards. You can use boards that were saved when your floors were initially installed. Because ten percent is added to the measurement of the planned installation area, there might be enough extra boards to complete the repair. 

If not, you’ll need to buy additional boards at your local home improvement center or flooring specialty store. Be careful to match the wood species and color. If the color of the existing and spare floorboards can’t be matched exactly, it’s best to choose a lighter color so that you can stain them darker to match and blend with the rest. 

buckling in wood floors

Instructions for Replacing Buckled Hardwood Floorboards 

Although the following instructions represent the simplest way to replace warped floorboards, an intermediate skill level is called for. While working outside your comfort zone is always a good way to expand your skillset, be sure to ask for help from a professional if you’re not confident in your skill level. These instructions apply to nailed or glued floors. Repairs to tongue and groove planks call for a more advanced skill level.  

In addition to the floorboards, you’ll need to have these items on hand: 

To replace buckled hardwood floorboards, follow the steps listed below:

  • Use the straightedge and chalk to draw two parallel lines along the length of the plank, about ½” inside the edge. 
  • Set the circular saw to the depth of the floorboard only. 
  • With the circular saw, cut along the chalk lines. 
  • Cut diagonally to form an ‘x’ between the parallel lines. 
  • Beginning at the center of the ‘x’, tap the chisel with your mallet to remove the floorboard piece by piece. 
  • Continue in this way to remove any old glue. Note: Do not attempt to sand the glue. Some older adhesives were manufactured with asbestos which becomes powerfully carcinogenic when sanded or ground. 
  • Uset your pry bar to remove rusted, loose, or protruding nails. 
  • Collect loosened debris with the whisk broom. 
  • Vacuum the area. It’s essential to keep your work area completely free of dust and debris. 
  • If you notice any sign of moisture, aim an electric fan or floor dryer at the affected area until it’s completely dry. 
  • Fit the new floorboard to the exact dimensions of the empty space. 
  • Nail or glue the replacement board (as appropriate) into place.  

Note for glued or nailed wood floors: If the empty space is surrounded by other boards, this final piece will need to be glued in place. 

  • Use weights to hold the glued board flush and firmly in place. 
  • With a water dampened towel, wipe up any excess glue as quickly as possible. Dried floor glue is difficult to remove and will require a different process. 
  • Allow the glued board(a) to set according to the adhesive/floor glue manufacturer’s recommendations. Two hours are usually necessary before removing the weights. 

If you’ve concluded that a moisture barrier might have prevented the source of the damage from having such a pronounced effect, you probably shouldn’t attempt to fix your buckled wood floor on your own. This is a time-consuming and often tricky process that’s best undertaken by an expert. 

Speaking of prevention…

How to Prevent Your Wood Floor from Buckling

It truly is as your mother (the person you can hardly wait to go grocery shopping with) always says. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. So, it’s important to be sure not to allow your hardwood floor to be in prolonged or repeated contact with moisture. 

  • Be sure to clean spills as soon as possible
  • Elevate potted plants
  • Don’t allow wet towels, boots, or shoes on your hardwood floor
  • Keep a rug or doormat outside of exterior doors
  • Keep your home well ventilated to prevent high levels of humidity
  • Refresh the seal. If your floors have a wax seal, this should be done annually. For floors with a polyurethane seal, this should be done every few years
  • Conduct routine inspections as above for leaks and/or excess moisture

Also, be on the lookout for changes as they might not be terribly obvious at first. 

Warning Signs of Buckling Hardwood Floor

A buckled hardwood floor doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. 

In fact, in cases where the buckling isn’t the result of an extreme event, there were probably warning signs that presented themselves on some level or in some way. These signs might be small, but they are clarion calls nevertheless. 

  • Clouding, White Stains: A floor or an area of a floor that appears cloudy or hazy. The appearance is distinctly different from the hazy effect of abrasion.  
  • Dark or Black Stains: Water or moisture that’s underneath the floor or has penetrated the surface can cause this type of stain. You can learn more about this specific issue in our article on removing black stains on hardwood floors.
  • Rust Stains: These usually form at the edges of individual floorboards that have been fastened with nails.
  • Cupping: This is the term for individual floorboards that lift at the sides. The effect is a U-shaped board. Cupping can happen to a single board or entire sections of boards. Learn more about this topic in our guide on hardwood floor cupping.
  • Crowning: A floor that’s crowned will have one or more “humps” in it. 
  • Lifting: As the term suggests, the floorboards lift at the ends.

All these things are evidence of damage from moisture. If the source is eliminated before the damage becomes profound, cupping, crowning, and lifting can resolve themselves. 

However, instead of waiting for these warnings to become more prominent, proactive measures should be taken to ensure the earliest possible intervention. The following items are vital components of such an effort. 

  • Moisture Tester: Klein Tools makes a very decent one that sells for under $40.  In addition to moisture reading of concrete to let you know if installation of a water barrier membrane is called for, you can also use this device to read the moisture content of wood, drywall, and masonry. So, it’s perfect for detecting leaks as well. For the price, you really can’t do much better.
  • Humidity Monitor: For under $20, you can buy a pair of these to alert your phone when the readings are outside of the range you preset by using the app that comes with it. These hygrometers display the temperature as well. Very cool.

The total cost of the three items, above, comes to around $200. Hence, the cost to prevent buckled hardwood flooring amounts to a tiny fraction of the cost to replace it. Prevention also saves a lot of hassle and headache.                        

While it might seem like investing in hardwood floors represents a lot of work, in reality, they’re no more difficult to maintain than any other type of flooring. The difference is that hardwood floors never go out of style and with proper care, yours can last a lifetime.  

Image Credits:
  • https://www.reddit.com/r/HomeImprovement/comments/8z3ys1/please_help_my_hardwood_floors_are_cupping/
  • https://www.reddit.com/r/Carpentry/comments/a5fe3u/help_warped_floorboards_i_recently_discovered_my/
  • https://www.reddit.com/r/HardWoodFloors/comments/hjfz21/hardwood_floors_buckling_how_to_fix/